The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Place Beyond the Pines

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne and Bruce Greenwood

Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder

Directed and Derek Cianfrance

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The first publicity stills for Ryan Gosling’s new vehicle (sorry) The Place Beyond the Pines worried me because just like everyone, I thought that the teardrop tattoo and the bleached hair has temporarily ruined Gosling the male ideal. This look was even worse than the two movies where he looked like Jason Lee – those movies being Lars and the Real Girl and Blue Valentine. But he surprisingly never looked better, his face glowing and more symmetrical. Gosling’s character, Luke Glanton, dominates the first act of this triptych. His performance is captured by most suitable hands, with director Derek Cianfrance’s lo-fi aesthetic combined with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s fluorescent, brutal artistry. Mike Patton’s haunting Lynchian score also enforces this aura that Luke is this impossible phantom, a character more important that Luke himself realizes.

Luke is a motorcycle stuntman famous within the circus crowd. He discovers that he has a child with a Cuban-American Schenectady native named Romina (Mendes). At first pride sets in but instead of regular employable skills, one of his colleagues (Mendelsohn) suggests that his abilities has the makings with that of a bank robber. Gosling’s finest moments are in these scenes, his voice squeaking to suggest that he’s not perfect at this gig. The movie also promises this crime to affect generations and that it does.

For some of the audience who are looking for more facets in this story, we can chew and bite on its depiction of Luke’s family as well as Avery Cross (Cooper), the man who has to stop Luke’s robbing spree. Families, after all, seems to be the theme of choice for Cianfrance, who is becoming one of our generation’s prominent tragedists. His earlier movie Blue Valentine portrays a rocky marriage. This new movie, however, uses a bigger canvas to show more elements that help families break apart.

Luke’s family is a diverse one, with Romina married to a man named Kofi, Romina bearing two children from different fathers. On the other hand, Avery deals with his ex-politician father, a wayward son named AJ (Cohen, the movie’s second MVP) and a wife named Jennifer (Byrne) who wants him to quit the force after the catastrophic fallout of his involvement with Luke’s case. Cianfrance’s delicate wisdom in co-writing this script is clear by showing both the families’ diversity and dysfunction without necessarily showing the connections within both.

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That said, as thrilling and magnificently shot as Gosling and his scenes are, I feel like I’m the only crazy person who thinks that Cianfrance sets Luke’s story arc in stone. While watching the movie, my questions instead were about the other two sections of this triptych. What will Avery do after the fallout of Luke’s case? What kind of relationship will AJ have with another boy named Jason (DeHaan), the latter having his own past to deal with? I’m thus more interested in the slow burn of the other two sections because anything can happen in those scenes, those scenes belong to one heart-pumping movie.

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TIFF 2012 – The Iceman Review (Dustin SanVido)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Iceman (2012)

Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, and James Franco

Written by Morgan Land and Ariel Vromen

Directed by Ariel Vromen

MINOR SPOILERS

Boy, did I have high expectations for this film. I’m a big fan of true crime stories and I had The Iceman in my festival top ten. The story of Robert Kuklinsky is one that’s interested me for the better part of ten years. Kuklinski was notorious for the killings he carried out over his adult life and lauded by those who worked with him for his innovative ways of disposing of his bodies. His story has a very cinematic quality which I thought could make for an exciting film adaptation if handled by the right filmmaker. As it turns out, Ariel Vromen is as capable as any first time director I’ve seen, but the decisions in the script to abandon certain aspects of his life and over-dramatize others as well as an overall blandness and sterilization of the factual violence that happened in reality severely hinder The Iceman. This coupled with some inexcusably bad performances from actors that have no place in the film leaves this as one of the more disappointing films of the festival.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Iceman is the true-life story of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, one of the most notorious hitmen in the history of the American mafia. The film chronicles the early beginnings of Kuklinski’s adult years, from his time as a sound technician in the adult-film retail distribution business to his rise as a reliable problem-solver for the Gambino crime family, all the while keeping a seemingly squeaky clean image as a loving father who provides for his family as a market trader. I will spare the inclusion of any additional plot breakdown as it would spoil the sole reason to watch this film, and that being the titular character’s story is and remains interesting. Viewers who are unaware of Kuklinski’s history in American crime will find the story interesting and entertaining, but those who know the true story will be frustrated.

The most damning aspect of The Iceman is the script. Important moments in his criminal life are never mentioned. In no single moment is there a sense of terrifying dread that was present in every interview and account of his life I had researched in the past. Aside from one or two total lines of dialogue in the entire film, the subject of the Gambino crime family, even their name, is never mentioned. Characters are the film equivalent of cardboard cut-outs. The murders portrayed are few and far between and are shown in bunches in a series of montages, with the exception of a few. The pacing is severely flawed as any tension that is built dissipates thanks to attempts at creating domestic drama. The filmmakers obviously didn’t care for the family aspect of the story and it’s surprising they went back to it during the one or two times the plot was actually moving smoothly.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The acting wasn’t as bad, but it was ultimately disappointing and didn’t do the filmmakers any favours. Michael Shannon was an inspired choice to play the titular character, but I feel as though he missed his mark and perhaps just couldn’t fully realize the demands of such a two-sided sociopathic killer. I applaud him for trying because of the appeal of such a role, I just didn’t find him scary at all. For such an imposing character I found his performance rather nonthreatening, however I feel these problems for the most part were due to the script and not the actor. Surprisingly, I really liked Winona Ryder in this film; she plays off of Shannon’s emotions perfectly as his loving wife Deborah Kuklinski. Ray Liotta as Roy Demeo is his usual bad self, doing nothing better or worse than he’s done for the latter part of his career. The rest of the performances are as poorly written as everything else, but what makes them even worse is the inclusion of a group of actors that bring zero to the table and leaves one to wonder why they are even there. First is David Schwimmer as a soldier working under the guidance of Demeo. His performance is awful and is only surpassed in its awfulness by his porn star moustache and the performances of the other two in question. One of those is Chris Evans, who plays Robert Prongue, a fellow killer who befriends Kuklinski. Evans plays his character much like his earlier performance as the dumb jock in Not Another Teen Movie. Lastly we have James Franco, who makes a short cameo, the likes of which have been deservedly chastised by a fellow writer at Entertainment Maven in a review of Aftershock. Portraying Marty the scumbag, his character is only onscreen for a brief time before meeting his end in one of the better moments of this messy film.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

There isn’t much else to say except that this was a greatly unsatisfying film that had all the elements in hand to tell an interesting and fresh story and were squandered and lost almost solely thanks to poor decisions in the script process. I can only hope the director finds a better script for his next feature, while this is the second straight poor choice for Michael Shannon. I think I just may avoid him until Superman returns to fight him in next year’s The Man of Steel.

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TIFF 2012 – The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, Emory Cohen, and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (PBtP) attracted me with its all-star cast and the hint that it may be the unofficial sequel to last year’s wildly successful Drive. I’m only joking about the sequel business, but if I accidentally refer to PBtP as Drive 2: Ride, then please forgive me. Everyone is obsessed with The Gos lately, and for good reason, but the rest of the cast solidified this as a must see movie at TIFF this year. I’m often guarded when I see movies with a mega-cast, but considering that PBtP was helmed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the movie was well over two hours in length, I was hoping that this would not be a case of style over substance. While not a perfect movie, I’m very happy to say that PBtP may be the best thing I have seen at TIFF so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-generational story about identity, inheritance, the sins of fathers, and life in general. Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who works as little more than a side-show performer at a travelling carnival. His work is dangerous and he has long ago been hardened by it; his lean body etched with tattoos and covered by tattered clothing. The last time he found himself in the small town the carnival is currently passing through he had a one night fling with a cute young waitress (Mendes), however on this occasion the same waitress seems rather cold, as she harbours a bit of information that is about to change his world. Cooper on the other hand is a young police officer whose role on the street is causing a lot of tension at home. To go into further detail would ruin the experience at the cinema. Characters are fleshed out, important life decisions are made, and paths cross.

As I’ve said, PBtP is not perfect, but there are so many compelling elements that it’s hard not to be very excited discussing this movie. The performances are absolutely top-notch, nearly across the board. Gosling channels some of the same energy that made his Driver so compelling, but he adds a layer of self-doubt and fear which makes his character in PBtP much more accessible and identifiable for viewers. Mendes doesn’t have as much screen time as many of the other lead characters, but when she’s onscreen we see a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic of the characters she normally plays. Mendes has definitely added an interesting dimension to her career with this performance. The young guys, DeHaan and Cohen have an amazing dynamic  throughout the latter part of the movie. It’s hard to believe that they have not acted together before (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also, the supporting actors, particularly Greenwood and Mendelsohn turn in very strong performances. Despite very limited screen time, I don’t think Greenwood has ever been better. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory at best. His performance is inconsistent, as he’s great onscreen when the situations aren’t that serious, but when things get emotional it feels like he doesn’t have the repertoire to deliver a convincing scene, tear, or emotional line. This becomes even more obvious next to Gosling’s wonderful performance.

The script and direction by Cianfrance are equally as good as the high level performances. PBtP is a multi-generational story, and as such there are gaps of time that we traverse in seconds to catch up with the story. When this happens in a movie it can feel like rebooting your computer – a necessary amount of waiting must be done to get back to business. Thankfully these ‘reboots’ in PBtP fly by, and even though we find ourselves in a new storyline, it always turns out to be a very intriguing one, almost immediately. If I had to say something critical about the writing and directing I would say that PBtP does not tug on the heartstrings as masterfully as the filmmakers may have liked. Certain scenes at the end which should have been very powerful, especially considering how much time we had spent with the characters, but they end up feeling a little flat. Despite my emotional detachment from certain characters and outcomes I was not intellectually detached. The various storylines had me intrigued throughout and the ending was certainly satisfying, although definitely not a tearjerker. When I look back on the experience as a whole, I would be hard pressed to think of a better movie I have seen at TIFF so far this year. The Place Beyond the Pines is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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Breathless DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Breathless DVD Review

Starring Gina Gershon, Kelli Giddish, Val Kilmer, Wayne Duvall and Ray Liotta

Written by Jesse Baget and Stefania Moscato

Directed by Jesse Baget

Arriving in stores this week from Anchor Bay Entertainment is the new comedic thriller Breathless. Starring Gina Gershon and Kelli Giddish and from the director of the upcoming Wild Side with Juno Temple and Nicolas Cage, Breathless is the story of a heist and the wife who finds out about it. But does this direct to video offering pack enough bite to entice you to spend you hard earned dollars on it?

Breathless starts with Tiny (Giddish) arriving at Lorna’s (Gershon) trailer and discovering an unconscious Dale (Kilmer) on the floor of the living room. It appears that on the previous day a bank robbery occurred in the next county and Lorna has deduced that Dale was in on it. Bringing Dale around again, the two friends start grilling Dale about the robbery and the location of the money, but not all is what it appears as there are many issues that play out between the three. After an accidental weapon discharge causes the situation to change drastically, a visit from the local lawman, Sherriff Cooley (Liota), manages to heighten the tension and increase the scrambling. We get twist after twist until the biggest twist happens at the end of the film, and sadly it is predictable like most of the rest of the film.

The script behind Breathless is handicapped by its one-setting scenario, but it also manages to become very predictable and stale in dialogue and the way the story plays out. Seemingly content to rehash the past, there is a lot of material, almost all of it in fact, that feels like reheated leftovers of better films and other not so well made films. Writer/Director Baget does little to be original in this offering and unfortunately the lacking script also does no justice to its performers. Gershon, much better in this month’s Killer Joe in theaters now, is pretty much just phoning it in here. She knows what the film is and knows she does not need to put herself out there too much with her character. Giddish is really trying here but the script completely lets her down. The rest of the cast is actually used very sparingly and as such are mainly lost in the background of the film. The setting of the trailer may be the one aspect of the film that really works. Allowing only one building for the entire setting, the set decorators and designers had a much smaller ‘canvas’ to deal with and it shows in the attention to detail displayed in the film. It may not be much but at least the people taking care of the set knew what they were doing.

The special features on the disc are fairly barren as we get an audio commentary from the director/producer team, which is pretty standard, and a very disappointing 15-minute ‘making of’ that really doesn’t serve up nearly enough actual behind the scenes footage.

Lacking in originality and killer performances, Breathless is a predictable crime/thriller/comedy. There will be better options for your money in the coming weeks, and you may be better served holding out for them. Breathless is definitely a non-recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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